Sunday, August 17, 2014


CHAPTER 33: The Final Cleansing

“O God, see heathens in your holy places!”
            The seven Virtues chanted through their tears,
            first three, then four, joining this psalm of loss.           3

They paused when Beatrice, with such a sigh
            as Mary must have sighed at foot of cross
            stood up and glowing like a flame, proclaimed,           6

“Dear sisters, we must leave here for a while
            but will return.” A gesture made them walk
            ahead of her, while we three came behind                   9

until she turned her calm clear eyes on me
            saying, “Come nearer, brother. We must talk.
            Ask what you wish.” I was so far beneath                  12

her holy state, my tongue tripped on my teeth
            in stammering reply: “My lalala,
            my lalalady knows what I should know                     15

mumuch, much more than me.” “Then start,” said she,
by talking sensibly, and not like one
            stumbling under a load of sin. Lethe                           18

has washed you clean. You saw the vile dragon
            break my carriage, a giant drag it off.
            Know those to blame will not escape God’s wrath.    21

Know that the eagle feathering my car,
            making it monstrous, then slave to a hag,                                     
will not forever have heirs acting so.                         24

The birthday of a hero, sent by God
            to kill the giant and his prostitute
is registered on the star calendar.                               27

Exactly when and where I do not know.
            Five hundred, ten and five are numbers where
            some find a clue. Not me. Such prophecies               30                  

like Sphinx’s riddle, hide what should be plain,
            yet when on earth again tell it to those
            racing toward death, for it will come true.                 33
Write of the tree: what you saw, what I say.
            It is the tallest tree, widest at top
            because God made it only for himself.                       36

Adam learned robbing it is blasphemous,
dwelling with Eve in Hell five thousand years
till Jesus let him out. The latest theft                           39

which you have seen is recent history.
            But now I fear your mind is like a stone
            so darkened that my words are dazzling you.             42

Remember them, though you don’t understand.”
            Said I, “As sealing wax receives its stamp
            I am impressed by you and all you say,                      45

but why do words I long for fly so high
            over my head? The more I try (alas!)
            the less I know.” “Which teaches you,”                      48

said she, “that your science is as far under me
            as earth is below a Heavenly star.”
            I cried, “But I have never left your side!”                  51

She smiled and said, “You have drunk Lethe, so
            forget how many years you walked astray.
            Now I will use plain speech you understand.”           54

The splendid sun stood at the height of noon
            (which varies with a viewer’s latitude)
            when the seven maidens who’d gone ahead              57

paused on the strand of what at first I thought
            a waterfall shaded by mountain trees.
            Nearer I saw an overflowing spring                          60

whose waters were dividing in two streams
            going opposite ways like the Tigris
and Euphrates, reluctantly, like friends.                     63

“O light and glory of the human race,
            what are these waters?” I asked Beatrice,
            who said, “Matilda knows.” My other guide            66

quickly replied like one discarding blame,
            “I’ve told him both these rivers’ name and use.”
            “His memory is numbed,” said Beatrice,                  69

 “by novelties, but here flows Eunoe.
            As you know how, refresh his weakened mind.”
            Gentle souls gladly serve another’s will.                   72

Matilda murmured, “Come.” She took my hand,
            saying to Statius, “and you come too.”
            Reader, if I had time to write much more,                75
I’d speak about the sweetness of the stream
            I tasted then. I thirst to drink it still,
            but first must fill more pages with the tale                78
of my big poem’s third, last, grandest part.
            Art orders with a voice I can’t deny.
            I left the stream of Eunoe remade,                                                
a pure soul fit to climb the starry sky.                                  82


                                               CHAPTER 32: Of The Church

Her lovely smile was all I wished to see
since ten years I had thirsted for the sight.          
            I fixed my eyes on her and in delight                      3

forgot all else but she. Again the net
            of her enchantment was surrounding me
until I heard the Virtues call, “Too fixed!”              6

when this recalled me from my dazzled state.
            I found the sacred pageant had swung round.
            Candles and prophets now marched to the sun,      9

passing the car just as the Griffin turned
            into the new course with an easy force
            that stirred no feather of it’s wings. I walked          12

with she who’d ferried me and Statius.
            Beside the car we crossed the woodland glades
            lost to mankind because the serpent’s tongue          15

had misled Eve. Three arrow flights beyond
            our turning point the car stopped at a tree
            far loftier than any I had seen.                                 18

Leafless and blossomless, the branches spread
             wider while rising to astounding height.
            Murmuring, “Adam’s tree,” our company               21

encircled it as Beatrice left the car.
            The rest sang, “O Griffin who never ate
            from this forbidden tree, thus saving seed                24

of righteousness  from those who find it sweet
            until it’s poison makes their bellies squirm.”
            The Griffin drew the car to the tree trunk,                27

laid the pole on a branch, and as in Spring
            the plants renew themselves, so did the tree.
            It’s colour flushed through rose to violet.                 30

It put forth buds, unfolded leaves and bloom
            as a glad hymn was sung, but not by me
            who fell asleep. Artists perhaps may paint                33
how I looked then. I can’t, so pass to when
            light entered eyes and someone said, “Arise,”
            the word Christ used to wake dead Lazerous.          36

My good guide through the stream was at my side.
            I asked, “Where’s Beatrice?” and she replied,
            “Sitting beside the car on the tree root,                      39

shaded by leaves.  Around her like a cloister
            the Virtues stand, candle in hand, each one
            guarding a flame. The Griffin with prophets,            42

apostles, saints are back in Paradise.”
            She may have said much more but Beatrice
            was all I noticed now, on the bare ground,               45

her seven hand-maids near. She spoke to me.
            “Now for a while become a woodlander
            and citizen of Rome as Rome should be                    48

when Christ is Roman too. Here and elsewhere
            remember all you see. When back on Earth
            write of it truthfully, for the world’s good.”              51

I saw Jove’s eagle swoop down through the tree,
            beak tearing leaves, the blossoms and smooth bark.
            It struck the car, rocking it side to side,                     54

to and fro like ship swept by angry tide,
            then there leapt in a filthy starving fox.
            Rebuked by Beatrice the vile thing fled.                    57

The eagle now nested within the car,
            feathering each part with golden plumes till
            from on high I heard a lamenting cry,                      60

“My wee car, how you are now weighed down!”
            Then I saw ground between wheels opening
            letting a dragon out that drove it’s tail                        63

through the car floor. Like wasp removing sting
            it left the floor split and wandered away
            leaving broken car covered up with plumes               66

thick as knot-grasses spoiling fertile soil.
            Those who donated these no doubt meant well,
            but the transforming chariot grew heads,                   69

 three on the shaft and at each corner one.
            The three were horned like oxen, other four
            had one horn in their brow. Such a monster               72

had not appeared on Earth before, and then
            like fortress on a mountain top I saw
            a naked whore seated astride the beast                      75

and boldly staring all around although
            a giant shamelessly stood caressing
            and kissing her until he saw that she                          78

was trying to catch my eye, whereupon
            he beat her violently from head to toe
            then dragged away both she and her foul steed

till both were hidden by the leafy wood.                               82


CHAPTER 31: The Cleansing.

“You on the far side of this sacred stream – ”
            (she thrust this sharp point of her speech at me)
            “have heard my accusation. Is it true?”                      3

Such weakness and confusion mastered me
I struggled for a word but none would come.
            She let me stand there dumb a while, then said,         6

“Reply. Say what you think. Bad memories
            have not yet been destroyed by Lethe’s drink.”
            Fear piercing my confusion forced a “Yes”               9

so faint only her eyes could know I spoke.
            I stood like a poor archer whose bow broke
            letting the arrow go, so it fell short.                          12

Under such fierce assault more tears and sobs
            were now my sole resort. Again she spoke.
            “When love of me led you to love good things        15

beyond which nothing better can be found,
            what road blocks, spike-topped fences or deep moats
            stopped you from going onward as you should?       18

What tempted you to leave the path of good?”
            My lips had trouble shaping a reply
            but after a deep sigh I stammered this.                       21

“When I lost hope of seeing you again
            domestic life and local politics
            seemed adequate distractions from my pain.             24

Also some erotic dissipation.”
Said she, “If you had tried to justify
            facts you have just declared and this court knows,     27

and done that shamelessly with a dry face,
            my condemnation would conclude your case.
            Not so. To bear the shame of your offense                 30

and help resist all future syren calls,
stop weeping: and hear what you should have learned
            from my dead body. Yes, nature and art                     33
had never shown such beauty as was mine
which crumbled into dust. Since death stole that,
            why dally with more bodies that must die?                 36

I went to Heaven. You should have prepared
to join us here where death does not exist,
            and let no other women hold you back                       39

where all death-strokes must fall.” With downcast head
I stood, my guilt confessed, reproved. She said,
            “Since hearing gives you grief, look up for more.       42

Come, elevate your beard.” No wind tore up
tough oak tree by it’s roots slower than I
            lifted my rough chin at her mocking words.                45

Angels had stopped casting their cloud of blooms.
Beatrice stood gazing with enraptured face
            upon the creature harnessed to her car –                     48

the griffin with two natures in one soul.
Beyond the Lethé stream, beneath her veil
            she was more beautiful than when on earth                51

her face had been the loveliest of all.
The nettle of remorse so stung me that
            hatred of all I ever liked but she,                                 54

with such self-loathing, cut into my heart
I lost idea of self and time and place.
            When heart at last restored some outward sense         57

the lady first encountered in the wood
was saying, “Hold on! Don’t let go my hand.”
            I lay throat deep in Lethe”s cleansing stream,             60

but floating and upheld by one so light,   
she walked upon the stream, her arm so strong
            the hand was firmly pulling me along.                        63

Near the far bank in words I can’t recall
            she sang about forgiveness, held my head,
            plunged it beneath the stream, and so I drank,            66

then free of guilt at last could step ashore.
            The four nymphs by the nearest chariot wheel
            raised arms and linked their hands above my head.    69
“In Heaven we appear as stars,” they said,
            “and before Beatrice arrived on earth
            were chosen as her serving maidens here.                   72

Now we will lead you round to see her eyes,
            but fully to enjoy the light in them
            hear the three dancers by the other wheel                    75

who see more deeply into them than we.”
            Led there, I stood before the griffin’s breast,
            staring at Beatrice in the car behind.                           78

Her serving maids then sang in unison,
            “Now you will see the eyes of emerald
            which pierced you with love’s dart. Don’t fear to gaze.”  81

Since the veil did not hide her eyes I stared
            and saw within their depth the two-fold beast
            like sun’s reflection in a looking glass.                        84

Reader, this wonderful and lovely sight –
            this figure changing in my lover’s eyes,
            now with a Heavenly aspect, now the earth’s             87

was nourishing, like a delicious meal
            that never would reduce true appetite.
            Then the three virtues from the other wheel,               90

Faith, Hope and Love, danced around me and sang,
“O Beatrice, unveil your lovely face.
            To gratify this faithful traveller                                    93

who’s journeyed more than any man alive.
            down through the world and up to this great height
to look on the full glory of your Grace!”                     96

Though drunk with language’s magnificence
            what poet, pale from studying his art
won’t find himself unable to impart

the greatest thing now present to his sense?                          100